LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
WILLIAMSBURG—Laurel County was well represented in the 13th Region tennis tournament, as South Laurel’s Neha Rao won her fourth straight girls’ singles championship while North Laurel’s Arjun Kanthawar surprised with his first-ever region title.
Rao, a junior, cruised through the tournament, losing only four games. In the quarterfinals she beat Rachyl Harman of Clay County, 6-0, 6-0, to advance her to the semifinals, where she rolled past Corbin’s Caroline Reedy, 6-1, 6-1. That moved her into the finals, where she faced another Corbin girl, No. 2 seed Sydney Ledington. Rao won that match and the title, 6-1, 6-1.
“It feels really good,” Rao said of winning her fourth straight title. “I came into the tournament with a clean slate. We hadn’t played Corbin this year so I had a fresh mind and really wanted to win.”
In the finals against Ledington, Rao never had her serve broken while breaking Ledington’s serve five times.
“She was really focused,” South Laurel coach Carol Johnson said. “She laid off playing a lot of USTA tournaments and seemed more relaxed in this tournament. She didn’t drop a game all season and plays with heart every match.”
Kanthawar, the No. 3 seed on the boys’ side, got by the No. 2 seed, Whitley County’s Chris Tan, in the semifinals, 6-4, 6-2, to set up a region final with No. 4 seed Brit Bowling of Clay County. Bowling upset No. 1 seed Connor Maguet of Corbin in the semifinals.
Kanthawar would drop the first set to Bowling, 6-2, but came back to take the second set, 6-4, setting up a Super Tiebreaker, which he won, 10-5.
“It feels good to win,” Kanthawar said. “I really didn’t expect to. After I beat Tan, I was feeling really good. I had lost to him during the regular season. Against Bowling I played really well in the second set and tiebreaker.”
“This was a huge day for Arjun,” North Laurel coach Bobby Smith said. “He had lost to Tan earlier in the year in a close match, but today he played a little better. Kept Chris a little off balance and made him work a little harder. He got down 4-2 in the first, but he really picked up his game and played one of his best matches of the year. The final against Brit was a really fun match to watch. And what a statement for the youth in our region having an eighth grader and a freshman battling it out. They’re both such good kids that you hated to see either come up on the short end. Brit is such a good scrambler and he’s able to get himself out of trouble. He really makes you work and earn everything you get against him. Once again, Arjun got down losing that first set. But this kid is cool, has a good head on his shoulders, and he never gets rattled or down on himself. He got hot at the right time during this weekend, and he had a fantastic tournament. A buddy of mine, coach from Knott Co. Central, sent me a text that was kind of our theme for the night. I had text him the night before telling him that I had a singles and doubles team still alive and that we were still alive for the team title, and he simply text back “Go get it”. So that was our saying for today—to go get it. Arjun had lost a couple games to go down 4-3 in the second set, and during the changeover, I just asked him if he was having as much fun playing as the fans were watching and asked if he knew what time it was—that it was time to “go get it”. And he did exactly that—he went out and got it. So proud of the guy for the composure he showed, the toughness he showed, and executing his shots when he needed it most.
“I was really happy with our team effort—we had all four of our entries seeded, and they all contributed to our total points,” Smith said. North finished runner-up to Corbin, 14-12. “Going into today, we were still in the running. We had lost to Corbin in doubles, but Arjun picked up a big win in the semis. We still had a shot, but we had to have Brit win his semi against Corbin and we had to have to have Middlesboro beat Corbin in the other doubles semi. If those two things happen, we’re still alive heading into the finals. So we were big Clay County and Middlesboro fans to keep our hopes alive. Clay County got the win in singles, but Middlesboro lost a heartbreaker in doubles. That win clinched the title for Corbin. At that point, you just seek out Coach Dugger and the Corbin players and congratulate them on the team title. We have such respect for Corbin and the standard that they have set, and they deserved it and earned it. But I’m very proud of my boys for the performance they gave this weekend. We battled and made them work for it. And we also get to celebrate a regional singles champion. Also, by advancing to the semis of their draws, Pooja Kanthawar and doubles team Sammy Maggard/Dakota Boggs, along with Arjun Kanthawar, will go on to participate at the state tournament later this month in Lexington.”
In boys’ singles, Kanthawar received a first round bye then beat Brian Gibbs of Knox Central, 6-1, 6-1. He then beat Jacob Raleigh of Harlan County, 6-0, 6-0, to advance to the semifinals and qualify for the state tournament.
“Arjun was the heavy favorite and he dominated from the start,” Smith said. “He never let Raleigh in the match and he focused well on what he needed to do.”
Hasan Salim of North won his first round match against Christoff Naylor of Middlesboro, 6-0, 6-0, before falling to Clay County’s Brit Bowling. South Laurel’s Ben Tonkel received a first round bye then beat Nathan Holcomb of Harlan County, 6-1, 6-1, before falling to No. 1 seed Connor Maguet of Corbin, 6-1, 6-0. Plinio Tuta of South Laurel lost his first round match to Harlan County’s Jacob Raleigh, 6-2, 6-3.
In boys’ doubles, North Laurel’s Sammy Maggard and Dakota Boggs, the No. 3 seed, received a first round bye before beating T. Potter and C. Swanner of Bell County, 6-1, 6-1 They then beat J. Adams and J. Hall of Knox Central, 6-2, 6-1. That win advanced them to the semifinals and qualified them for state.
“I was expecting a tough match with Adams and Hall,” Smith said. “They’re two athletic kids who were a very dangerous opponent—they will be a force next year. But I was really pleased with how we took control of the net and really didn’t let them put pressure on us.”
The North duo then fell to Corbin’s Seth Heinss/William Reedy in the semis, 6-0, 6-2.
Gavin Gray and Ryan Jones of North won beat D. Thomas and J. Foley of Whitley County, 6-2, 6-2, before falling to A. Reedy and N. Krishna of Corbin. South Laurel’s Ethan Carnahan and Andrew Watts lost to A. Browning and T. Laws of Harlan Independent, 6-4, 6-4, and Lucas Maxey and Christian Helton of South fell to B. Lawson and J. Voges of Middlesboro, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
In girls’ singles, Rao beat Hannah Black of Lynn Camp, 6-0, 6-0, after receiving a first round bye.
Kanthawar won her second round match, beating Knox Central’s Jessica Pope, 6-0, 6-1, then Middlesboro’s Jane Millett, 6-3, 6-1.
“Pooja’s match was a long, grueling match,” Smith said. “In the second set, I think she wore Millet down a little and took control of the match. She started hitting her angles better, and she was able to execute some really good drop shots.” Kanthawar then fell to Ledington in the semifinals, 6-0, 6-0.
South’s Savannah Durham lost to Pope by default, while Ifran Hammad of North Laurel lost to Rachyl Harman of Clay County, 6-0, 6-0.
In girls’ doubles, North’s Makara Prichard and Brynna Ryle fell to R. Rams and H. Thomas of Williamsburg, 6-2, 6-3, while Casey Stenger and Kaylee Foley lost to H. Hensley and G. Adkins of Bell County, 6-1, 0-6 (10-4). South’s Hannah Amburgey and Anna McCowan fell to A. Zehr and H. Mahan of Whitley County, 6-0, 6-0, and L. Allen and Kenzi Batchelor lost to R. Rams and H. Thomas of Williamsburg, 6-0, 6-0.
The state tournament will start in Lexington May 15.